Should video games always let players choose their gender?

The next entry in the Assassin’s Creed saga is finally confirmed. officially titled mirage, 2023 release follows Basim, first introduced in 2021 AC Valhalla, as he rises from his origins as a humble street thief to become a full-fledged hitman operating in ninth-century Baghdad, some 300 years before the time of Altaïr and the events of the very first game.

mirage promises to return the Assassin’s Creed franchise to its roots, omitting the RPG elements and format that have since become the template for the series Origin debuted in 2017. It will instead bring the action back to a single location with an emphasis again on stealth, espionage and, of course, murder. Details are still relatively thin at this stage, but one of the more substantial and reliable online leaks stated with some confidence that a key feature of recent AC games was set to be scrapped: AC Mirage will do away with gender selection, at least for now.

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While this seems logical, given Ubisoft’s plans to mirage in line with the previous AC titles, many fans can’t help but be a little dismayed that one of the most innovative and inclusive features in modern gaming has been left aside, if only for a single outing. Gender selection is a great way for developers to provide better representation in their games, a feature often missing in the male-dominated, uber-macho AAA action market. Assassin’s Creed got its first female lead only in 2012 Liberation, and even then, the game was developed more as a sort of standalone expansion than a full-fledged standalone.

Gender choice gives players an element of autonomy over their playing experience without sacrificing function or making narrative concessions to a generic or modified protagonist. This can often lead to a better portrayal of more diverse sexualities, as romantic encounters that were once purely heterosexual can be diversified. This can be seen in both AC Odyssey, AC Valhallaand Cyberpunk 2077. As is the case in Walhalla, players also have the option to switch halfway through if they prefer to experience the world through a different pair of eyes. As a mechanic conducive to open-world RPG titles, gender selection certainly makes a lot of sense.

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Gender choice doesn’t affect the gameplay of most games yet, of course, something that can be seen as a blessing or a curse depending on one’s perspective. A lack of in-game feedback from one’s gender selection does mean that players won’t be hindered or helped by whatever choice they make, but it can make the process a bit random if the gameplay stays the same whether, for example, Far Cry 6‘s Dani Rojas is made male or female.

However, what can be affected is the tone and story of a game, especially when it comes to interacting with other characters and shaping the experience of what are increasingly cinematic cutscenes. Although her character functions in exactly the same way practically and narratively, odyssey‘s Kassandra is much favored by fans over her male alternative Alexios, thanks to actor Melissanthi Mahut’s dry charm and effortless charisma. In contrast, many Walhalla players have expressed their affection for the male Eivor as their favorite protagonist thanks to the sweet scent of Magnus Bruun Nielsen’s soothing Scandinavian notes.

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While it may be hard to admit, sometimes the story and context require a character to be male or female. Had the original Tomb Raider offered a choice between Lara Croft and, say, Larry Croft, many fans at the time opted for the latter thanks to the overwhelming tendency of gaming at the time towards a male demographic of players. A game like Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice, meanwhile, works because part of the main character’s ostracism is likely motivated by male assumptions and preconceptions about her psychosis. The excellent platformer of 2018 celeste is another example, because it is a journey built on the discovery of one’s self-identity.

Allowing players to choose their character’s gender can sometimes compromise this integration into the story. It can result in a character that, while certainly not generic, is somewhat tarnished by having to be malleable to two different personalities. Because gender-selected protagonists have to be everything to all players and function the same no matter who plays them, there is always a risk of them becoming generic or compromised as a result. For stories where gender is central to a protagonist’s identity, the idea of ​​changing or removing that aspect of a character’s identity is to remove an essential part of who they are and how they function in relation to the story itself. .

Games that offer a gender choice depend a lot on the story they want to portray. The inclusion of more diverse game protagonists has only been an improvement over a landscape once dominated by males. However, the choice of male or female heroes must be justified in the same way that the denial of such a dichotomy must also have its necessary merits. Some games require a decision in one way or another, but others thrive on being able to provide options that reflect how a player wants to experience the story as it unfolds. Fans will expect Ubisoft to justify its decision to remove such a choice when mirage falls in 2023.

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